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A revisionist account of the Second World War in Europe

The War in the West: Volume 1: The Rise of Germany, 1939-1941 - James Holland
Given the mountain of books that have been written about the Second World War, it is difficult to imagine that there is anything new to say in the subject. Yet for some time now a growing critique of the received wisdom about the conflict has emerged, one that brings a new understanding to the factors that shaped the war and its outcome. James Holland's book ranks among the contributors to this critique. The first of a projected three-volume study of the war in Europe, he addresses the familiar narrative of the first 22 months of the war and offers some provocative yet convincing explanations for how events developed in the way that they did.

Holland makes it clear at the start the book that his focus is on "operational history," or the effort to turn ideas and goal of the strategists into battlefield realities. This is a focus often missing from surveys of the war, and it's use here provides for some reconsiderations of received ideas about the war. Here Germany's Wehrmacht is not the sleek, modern, panzer-driven force, but a mainly horse-drawn army that relies on a good deal of risk-taking and bluff. By contrast Germany's enemies, particularly the British, enjoy far more modern equipment and a greater edge in terms of their forces. This disparity helps to highlight the command failings, especially those of the French, which contributed to the Allied debacle in 1940. Yet the Germans themselves made numerous mistakes, many of which contributed to the prolongation of the conflict and set the stage for their defeat in the war.

An accomplished writer, Holland provides readers with an analytical narrative of the war that is both readable and interesting. While better editing could have cut down on some of the repetitions and sloppy errors, these are minor complaints given the overall quality of the book. It's one that everybody interested in the conflict should read, both for the arguments Holland makes and the overall enjoyability of the book.